Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cosmic Sunrise...

The rain comes down fiercely, stinging his bare face like a thousand needles. He turns up his coat collar and tries to sink his head further in, like a tortoise. His jog escalates to a trot, one hand clasping his collar and another firmly gripping his right coat pocket. He skips over puddles and immobile abandoned cars, past scattered people solemnly standing sheltered on verandas. A pale yellow light of candles and lamps glitter from within the otherwise dark interiors of the roadside buildings. What was once a hub of booming business industry is now slowly degenerating into a den of desperation and decay. He knew it was a mistake to turn on that defective particle accelerator. He had warned them that that method of exploring scientific mysteries was more dangerous than it was useful. They laughed him away. But he had tried to interfere and managed to reduce the catastrophic failure to just an EMP. Now people were forced to live on analog 'technology' and rudimentary means, the likes of which they had only read about in old novels. "It's only for the meantime," he says to himself.

He turns the corner and runs down the empty street towards the warehouse looming in the distance at the far end of the street. The rain is coming down harder now.He makes it there in a surprisingly short time. He chuckles. It was working better than he had expected. He turns the crank on the wall and the heavy doors groan open. He steps into the warehouse. It looks more like a makeshift lab than a storage space. It was formerly a store for electrical equipment, so it was ideal for his purposes. He bought the place as soon as Vanderwilt Electric went bankrupt. He got most of the equipment as well as a bonus.

He pulls on a lever and heavy machinery comes to life, struggling to start running as though it hasn't been used in decades, screeching with wear and tear. He doesn't mind the noise, for it just keeps him company in his lonely task. He reaches into his coat pocket and takes out an ampule, then throws his wet coat onto a work table strewn with callipers, screwdrivers, bolts and screws. Stuff he keeps on the table just to look busy. He hates empty spaces and unused potential. He looks at the giant I-beams in the corner, and looks at the ampule in his hand. He thinks of how his task could have gone differently if the tractor beams still worked. Good thing he'd managed to separate his biochemical work from his engineering work. He breaks off the top of ampule and drinks the purple liquid within.

It takes a moment for the liquid to hit. First, he feels his eyes itching, then his bones feel like they are on fire. His muscles start to feel heavier, and his heart starts to race. It's been only 2 hours since he last used the Romulan formula, and he was down to his last sample. If he didn't finish his task today, he'd be stuck. Without it, he couldn't build the refined cosmic induction generator, and without the cosmic induction generator, he couldn't synthesize more Romulan formula. He had to work fast. When the itching and burning subsides, he runs over to the corner and starts working with the I-beams. At this point, they twist and turn and bend as easily as though they were made of foam. He binds one end to another with his bare hands, squeezing the joints together like play-dough. He fashions a pentagonal cage that rises to 15 feet high. He surrounds the cage in a network of superconducting copper cables, leaving just a man-sized opening. His heartbeat starts slowing down and he gets worried. He runs over to a wardrobe on the opposite wall and grabs the lead box within. He runs back to the cage with it, feeling it grow heavier as he goes along. He can barely set it down gently by the time he reaches the cage. He pushes open the lid of the box and takes out a clear decahedron the size of a basketball. He carries it into the centre of the cage and sets it down, and leaves, sealing the opening with more superconductor.

"One more piece left," he gasps, feeling his energy waning. The Romulan formula increases strength, whose effects depend on usage. Since he's been doing a lot of lifting, it has lasted only 45 minutes, compared to the 2 hours it lasted while he was running from his private storage unit all the way across town. By now, he's all but used up all of it. He connects a few cables from the cage to several hundred car batteries he had salvaged earlier. He practically collapses as he throws the heavy switch. Sparks start flying as the decahedron is slowly levitated into the air. The machinery in the background grinds to a halt, the sound of their screeching now replaced by a hum.  The decahedron rises,the sparks seeming like thousands of elecric hands lifting it into the air. He watches in anticipation as the decahedron starts to spin eratically, but maintaining its position dead centre in the cage. The hum becomes louder as the decahedron's spin increases in speed. He smiles a little, and turns to see his car batteries start to glow red from overheating. There is a sudden loud boom and an intense burst of yellow light as he flies back. He barely hears the sound of glass crashing all around him as reality fades from his grasp.

He finally awakes, his forehead and elbows burning as though there was lava flowing over him. He sits up, dazed, and waits for his vision to clear. There is a gentle hum, but it sounds like a muffled symphony to him. He thinks he's dreaming, but when he tries to stand up, he realizes that he's wide awake. His legs hurt, but he forces himself up anyway and limps towards the cage. As he goes along, he starts seeing more clearly, drops of blood and sweat falling on the dusty, glass-filled floor. He stops and looks straight at the cage, with tears of joy rolling down his face.

There, in the centre of the cage, is the decahedron, floating majestically, glowing a pale yellow, held up by an invisible hand. The hum is the sound of an immense power surging through it, only held back by the elaborately designed cage. It's like deja vu to him. He bursts into a triumphant laughter, ignoring the searing pain running through his body.

"I have created a sun," he shouts, to no one, and to the world. "It's literally the dawn of a new age!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Use a map, please!

Gone are the days when finding directions to some place involved lengthy phonecalls and lots of obscure instructions. The ease/difficulty of finding a place depended on the guy giving the instructions. Since the advent of free GPS, digital maps have never been easier to use. One would think people would have changed the way they give others directions, but noooo! They still do something like this;

"At the main road, turn off at the brown building called Pink House. There is a murram road that goes inside (oba inside where?). Follow that road until you find a junction. Just continue straight and gooooo.... Until you reach a cobra under a mango tree..."

Eh, alo, first wait! You have a resident cobra in the neighbourhood? Why would you be directing me to the den of nature's grim reaper? Have I told you that I'm coming to demand money? Because that's not the reason I'm coming to check on you. Neither am I bringing your landlord with me. Why do you wish harm on me? Oba is it one of those enchanted serpents that will ask me a riddle and if I fail, will condemn me to a fate so painful my grandchildren will grow up wailing?

"No, I mean cobra, the one of shoes."

What difference does it make? You mean the one out of whose skin they make shoes is less dangerous?

"I mean cobra, the man who repairs shoes."

Eh... Alright, go on..

"Anhaa... So, when you reach the mango tree, there is a road that goes up and another one that goes down. Take the one that goes down. Make sure you jump 3 gates..."

Uh.. O...kay!

"And then when you reach the fourth gate, which is black, you know you have gone too far. Turn back and head towards the 3rd gate that you jumped. My place does not have a gate, but it is between those gates."

Aside from imagining what service providers go through to reach such places, I'm grateful for the future. You will find it hard to believe how accurate GPS-aided maps are. All someone does is drop a 'pin' at the desired location and send it to the journeyman. Unless he's dumb as a pile of rocks, he should find the place with minimal difficulty. Of course he'd make a call or two to make sure he's on the right track, but it's a lot easier. Then again, you don't have to be dumb to get lost. Even a loose grasp of common sense will do. So I ask the guy to just drop a pin instead, and I'll use a map app to find him.

"So, you want to look for a needle in a haystack instead of following my simple directions?!"

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Movie blues...

Going to watch a movie at the cinema is kind of a sacred thing for me. By the time the year begins, I've planned all the movies I'm going to watch that year (give or take a few), and the wait for them to hit the screens is palpable. Over time, I've even singled out the best seats for optimum viewing pleasure. I need to be in those seats each time I go to the cinema.

Usually, these excursions are supposed to go on without much delay or difficulty, but there are certain factors that tend to get in the way.

The one of these (and by far my least favorite) is the (usually annoying) tag-along. You know, the one person that gets a whiff of your plans to go catch a movie and they suddenly decide that they want in, with no prior planning on their part whatsoever. They just decide that they have some time on their hands and want to spend it watching a movie with someone presumably special to them. In my experience, this has led to the tag-along turning up unnecessarily late, which results in you getting into the hall 20 minutes into the movie, and spending the rest of the movie trying to figure out what's going on, at the same time satisfying the curiosity of the equally baffled tag-along. Oh, it hurts! There was the one time I relented to this deviation and even bought the ticket, only for the tag-along to fail to show up. And there I was, with an unused ticket in my pocket and an empty seat beside me, a seat I had fought so hard to keep empty.

Another factor is that person who's totally clueless about the movie they're watching and end up asking you all sorts of questions. Excuse me! I'm also watching the movie for the first time! Could you please save those questions for later? Now, I don't mind the occasional comment or light banter during a movie, or a strong reaction to an epic scene. But don't offer lengthy explanations that are unwarranted. I remember someone asking me for an explanation of why Captain America's shield didn't shatter when Thor pounded it with his mighty hammer. I knew the answer, but there was too much epic stuff going on at the time for me to divert my attention to such a question. If you feel lied to, save your grief for after the movie, where comments and thoughts are fully enabled. Just control thyself for those 2 or so hours in the meantime.

I really look forward to blockbusters, so much that I hardly even consider critic reviews. Whether they praise the movie or not, if it's on my list, it's going to get watched. Now, if only I had consistent and favorable company each time, it would be real plot. For now, it's mostly a solo adventure. I'm eagerly awaiting the next 'The Hobbit' movie, but I'm not looking forward to the inevitable drama that may rear its head.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sun and sand...

It might not look like it, but I do like to go to the beach. Seeing as I've been to the beach about thrice in two years is not testament to my point, and yet I often dream about putting my feet in the water and staring at the horizon over the lake.

Almost all the times I've gone to the beach, I've gone with a bunch of friends, or workmates, or members of a club, organization, whatever, except for that time when my friend Max took me with him. I'd never gone to the beach alone, much less with someone. So, one day I decided to jump waaaay out of my comfort zone and actually go to the beach with someone.

First step was to find someone not in the friendzone. I'd had enough beach outings with those. Wanted to know what it felt like to be without limits. That one wasn't hard to find. I had only one person in mind. I imagined she'd look good at sunset. It was time to put that to the test. Besides, she was always berating me about generally avoiding the 'great outdoors', seeing as I habitually leave office after dark. Come to think of it, we had barely ever been in each other's company during the day. She was elated upon hearing the news that we'd be going to the beach for the day. I too could hardly contain my excitement.

Next step was to get to the beach without looking like an idiot. Since I'd never gone there on a 'solo' adventure, I'd never taken public means to the place. After discreetly asking for directions, that task proved to be a cinch.

We got to the beach, brimming with eagerness and appetite for a taste of the good life. For some reason, she held my hand tightly as soon as we walked through the gate. She'd mentioned that she was shy. I led her through a swarm of revelers, my eyes roving about to take in the atmosphere. It wasn't long before I realized she was merely marking territory. Having caught an eyeful of thighs glistening in the afternoon sun, she figured I would stray if left unattended. In hindsight, I should have worn sunglasses. She kept asking me questions that I found irrelevant but necessary to keep my focus on her. I did my best to act focused. I really tried. But the effort was taking too much of a toll on me, so we made a beeline towards the drinks tent. I needed to blur my vision, fast.

After some eating and drinking, it was time to talk. I dreaded that part, but from the way she was laughing, I think I got along pretty well. Heck, we even took a leisurely walk on the sand. We saw people frolicking in the water, and we discussed the merits and demerits of swimming in the lake. I think we were holding hands almost the entire time. At first I was rather uncomfortable, but I eventually got used to it, or ignored it. I'm not sure which. But I was enjoying her company immensely, to the point that at some point, everything else was just a blur. it could as well have been just the two of us at the beach.

It was almost sunset. We assumed the position. Hands around waists, head on the other's shoulder, we tried our best to think of how romantic it was to watch a sunset together. She said it felt awesome. I was trying my best to not get blinded by the twilight. Having spent too much time in darkness, my eyes were unaccustomed to staring at bright light. So, when a tear ran down my cheek, she might have thought the beauty of the whole thing was overwhelming me.

When the sun went down and darkness fell, my eyes were glistening. She was smiling from ear to ear, telling me how romantic it all was. I was smiling with relief, that finally, I was back in my element.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New wine, old wine-skin...

I like tinkering with stuff sometimes. I'm not a coder or software developer, or any of that fancy-sounding stuff kids are into nowadays. I just like tinkering with stuff (that's usually mine) and trying to make the most of it, beyond its basic use. My most notable time was acquiring a toy phone I called Jarvis (Nokia N900) with which I spent a gleeful two years or so until it finally gave up.

Now, I was aware of the existence of WhatsApp by that time, but seeing as I had only 3 contacts who had it (and were not overly keen on random conversations) I had given it a break. After being with Jarvis for a while, enjoying the beautiful usefulness of a Qwerty keyboard, I came to realize that Ugandans had caught up with internet messaging technology. I was being asked if I was on WhatsApp. So I tried. But WhatsApp wasn't available for Maemo 5 (Jarvis' OS), and neither were they planning to make a version that worked. I wasn't ready to move on from Jarvis yet. We'd been through so much together, and it would have been sad if I let him go for such a 'petty' reason. Instead, I opted to save him, or at least improve his usefulness.

I scoured the internets, searching for a version that worked. It took me a while, but eventually, I found something close enough. A clever guy had managed to port WhatsApp features onto Maemo 5 (like something you see in movies). He was kind enough to leave instructions on how to do it. However, he warned that if you didn't know what you were doing, you might end up destroying your phone. Well, I didn't know half the things he said to do, but I'm not faint of heart. When you've spent time bravely tinkering, you kind of get used to the potential of utter destruction while you seek to improve the ordinary. I was going to do what needed to be done. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

I gathered the necessary software and hardware, and closed myself in for a weekend. A whole weekend, because I needed the internet and it was taking its sweet time getting me what I needed. Plus, there was plenty of downtime as the computer and Jarvis were installing, restoring, rebooting, updating, rooting, porting, and generally blinking busily while I twiddled my thumbs. When everything was done, I could have sworn that Jarvis was glowing with renewed purpose. I dusted him off, for he felt new. I activated data and voila! WhatsApp messages came pouring in. It was a proud moment. A few months later I'm at a concert and I meet a guy with a Nokia N900. He sees me typing away and asks what's up. I tell him I'm on WhatsApp. "It works on there?! How did you do it?" I grinned and asked if he wanted me to put it there for him. "Why bother? I'm going to buy a new phone anyway."

Jarvis retired (painfully) last year. I did what I could to revive him, but alas, this time he was lost for real. I keep him in a personal museum now, to remind me to never forget how good a tinkerer I was, and should the hunger return, I'll tinker some more.

I've since moved on to join the Android family. Now I have a 2010 model phone running a 2014 OS.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Desolate Wind...

There’s a loneliness that comes with having so much power; you never seem to find someone whom you can regard as your equal. You show off your impressive abilities, but instead of admiration, you see fear. They are wary of you regardless of what you do or say to them, for they know that their existence can be wiped out on a whim. They soon figure that it's much safer for them to be as far away from you as they can, and hope that you don't hold a grudge. You spend your days looking down on people, ignoring them, raising them, encouraging them, betraying them, using them, but never once getting closer to them. You get to know them, but they never get to know you. You might have come close to finding someone you'd call your equal, but your experience with them soon slips through your hands like fine sand, and promptly carried off by the wind, along with your happiness.

You’re too powerful, too deep, too mysterious, too vast to comprehend, not at least by their meager senses. The loneliness is such a heavy burden that you’d welcome even the slightest provocation, if only just to shake you from your boredom. You will entertain stupidity, absurdity, grandeur, all just so you can be amused by the ambitions of ants in comparison to your own timelessness. 

But you forget that the things you find laughable mean the world to the ants. To you, all their grand plans are mere breezes in the afternoon, gone as suddenly as they came, leaving a faint sense of awareness in their wake but hardly ever changing anything. However, to the ants, they've lived and worked their whole lives just to get what is a mere breeze to you. You see them happily swell and puff up their chests with a sense of accomplishment. It burns inside of you that for all your power, you've lost your sense of happiness. You laugh, not at their efforts, but at yourself. 

No matter how much you explain it to them, they are incapable of grasping it. They simply cannot reason with you at your level. Even the king of the ants will be crushed by the sound of your voice. You always have to speak in whispers, for your voice can shatter worlds, and erase things from existence. When people seek to hear your voice, you chuckle. They seem not to know what they are talking about. If you gave them what they were asking for, they wouldn't even for an instant, hear you. They’d be dead before they heard the words. And when you try to commune with them, their world seems so fragile you grow weary just trying to fit in. They come to you, feeling wronged, and you look at all the anger burning in their eyes. You look at them with this vacant look. To them, it looks like you couldn't care less what they are going through. Deep in your heart, you know that all their rage is meaningless. 

They can never hurt you, no matter how much they want to. They will think they are getting somewhere, only to realize in the next moment that all their efforts count for nothing. And yet you still blame them for being ants. That is anger, but not your anger towards them. It’s anger towards yourself. Because you are, without a doubt, alone. 

"And as you realize how foolish it all is - your laughter reverberates off the walls of your own emptiness." - The Joker

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

That one time at Idd...

Idd is a time for celebration. Celebration with my Muslim friends. Celebration because, when I'm lucky, they invite me for a scrumptious luncheon, where we talk about eating, eat, then talk about how we've eaten, then eat some more, then talk. You get the gist of it. So, on one of those Idds, a friend extended courtesy to me and a few pals to fall in at his place for the glorious munchery. As you can imagine, our excitement was palpable. I personally had a very light breakfast (a bun, a single bun), so as to save space for a massive quantity of food to be consumed later. I thought it helped to eat this bun rather late in the day, such that my enzymes remained active up until the feast.

One of our pals has a car, and the venue was a long way out of town, so that helped plenty. The guy had said to be there at about 1pm, so we set off at 1pm. It was mostly due to circumstances beyond our control, but we were soon zooming towards the promised land. And then we encountered every anxious traveller's nightmare, traffic jam. It was arguably the most painful 30 or so minutes of our day. Arguably.

After customarily getting lost, confused, calling host a few times to ascertain coordinates, we finally made it. And at first, the sight of empty tables in the compound was a cause for concern. But our fears were allayed when our host walked towards us with such spring in his step, we could not have mistaken him from a satisfied man. We did a round of greetings to the inhabitants and fellow guests of the home. And then we got seated and started making food-themed threats and jokes. One guy promised to give the food the most epic beatdown we'd ever witnessed. Another guy said threats are nothing. For him he was going to clear 3 rounds. Another guy boasted of having multi-tier storage in his stomach. The bovine references came flying in fast and heavy.

We didn't wait too long. The two hours passed by rather quickly, and finally it was time to get to business. Now, there's something very strange that happens whenever I'm at the start of a buffet-like setting, when I hold my plate. The food dishes seem to be many, and everything looks appetizing. I feel like I want it all. The inner voice tells me, "Dude, be easy and first focus on the essentials." And I respond, "Wah... I gat dis! Don't you remember how easily I cleared two heaped plates last time?" The inner voice shrugs and steps aside, for it is not very argumentative. I gleefully heap my plate with almost everything, but in varying quantities. There's only so much rice I'm going to allow to get into the space of my meats. As I leave the serving area, I notice a smile of approval on the host's face. Looks like I'm representing properly.

We all get seated and engage in friendly banter and purposeful mastication. The stories around the table have no specific direction, but everyone seems to be following nonetheless. 20 minutes later, it starts to fall apart at the seams. The once juicy looking chicken thigh starts looking more like a nuisance on your almost empty plate. And you also notice that there remain no traces of the rice and irish potatoes. You stare at the plate and question your priorities. The threats of going for a second helping have faded into embarrassing reminders of one's own horn tooting. After mustering the courage of a hundred Spartan warriors, the plate is eventually all but cleared. There remains the offending piece of meat, but there is nothing more I can do about it. I let it slide. It shouldn't hurt my resume that much. I try to do my customary post-meal stretch, and realize that I'm in trouble. The stretches are painful. I try to sigh, but it seems as though I'm filled up to the top of my throat. Means I can no longer laugh. The fruits and juice come, but I barely even eat those. I concentrate my remaining energy on being dormant. Of course, the guys laugh. Those who can, at least, for I'm not alone in this dilemma. The table talk dies down a little and I figure everyone's trying their best not to move about much. Digestion is a delicate process, and needs not be interrupted without good cause.

After what felt like several hours, life starts returning to the table. And then the guy with the car states his intent to leave shortly, seeing as he's pretty much recovered enough to drive. The only thought in my mind at the time is getting home, falling into the warm embrace of my (presumably empty) bed, and sleeping off while the massive digestion continues. After an unusually long session of bidding farewell, I waddle towards the car. There is no spring to be found in my step. None whatsoever. The time between sitting in the car and getting home is one big blur, filled with obligatory movements and punctuated by strange visions. I survived that encounter. It was below par, by my standards, but a formidable performance according to the friends who witnessed the whole thing.

I have since fully recovered from that outing, and now that another Idd is around the corner, I'm pumped up and ready to go. And this time, the food beatdown will be epic! The likes of which have never been seen before. (Note to self: Avoid tight fitting shirts this time.)

Happy Idd in advance, to all my Muslim friends.